One day in early April, I found myself again on top of a Vespa: a trio of appassioned Vespa-drivers from Emilia Romagna – Roberto, Stefano and Stefano – had insisted on boosting me onto one of their Vespas for a photo. They’d just arrived in Assisi for three days of festivities sponsored by the Vespa Club D’Italia
On top of that Vespa, mamma mia, what memories of junior-year-abroad in Rome and zipping around Roman piazzas on the back of friend David’s Vespa. I hadn’t been on a Vespa since (though years ago, I used to ride around our Assisi area on my Garelli motorbike).
Vespa-lovers from all over Italy – and from Austria, Spain, Switzerland and Germany, too – were at la Punzonatura (the “punching point”) registering for the competitions and group rides through the Umbria countryside.
Cau was eighteen years old in 1946 when the abbruzese engineer, Corradino D’Ascanio, designed the first Vespa for the Piaggio brothers (having already designed the first prototype of today’s helicopter).
Cau worked in Rome as a mechanic transforming British military motorcycles of all makes into civilian transport modes. Mechanics were his skill, speed his passion…..
His love affair with Vespa began when he repaired one for a client and was later allowed to race it. Vespa racing became his passione. I asked Cavaliere Cau what the Vespa was for him and he immediately replied with a lover’s sigh: “Un gioello” (“a jewel”). He told me the Vespa was his life, adding with a twinkle in his eye, a lump in his throat, “la Vespa fu fatta per me” (“the Vespa was made for me”).
He told me proudly that in all the world, there were only ninety-nine “Super Cau,” the last classic Vespa named after him. When it hit the market, that black Vespas immediately sold out. Cau was also honored by the President of Italy who “knighted” him with the prestigious title of Cavaliere del Lavoro for his years of work with Piaggio.
“I risked my life racing Vespas – as I was such a little guy. I weighed just over 40 kilos and Dottor Enrico Piaggio himself called me ‘il fantino delle Vespa’ (‘the jockey of the Vespa’).”
Cau – now age ninety-two – was last on a Vespa in 1984 but Vespa remains his life as was clearly evident at the April Assisi Vespa festival.
He’ll take center-stage again in early June at a Vespa round-up in Naples.
David – and all those Vespa-loving Roma friends of 1968/1969 – care to meet me there for “old times’ sake”?
See Cavaliere Giuseppe Cau and the limited-edition “Super Cau” Vespa named after him